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Strategy Season: Communicating Strategic Plans to Stakeholders
It’s become a routine at our house to check the school lunch menu every day. With a glance, the kids can be happy about what’s to come or disappointed and begging for a home lunch. Either way, they both take comfort in knowing what to expect. It eases whatever level of anxiety they may be feeling in the moment. So it’s really no surprise that even as adults we want to know what to expect so we can anticipate any fall out, prepare our minds and teams in advance, and potentially have a plan B (or C) on the back burner. It’s why effectively communicating strategic plans to stakeholders is so crucial and, regrettably, remains difficult to accomplish and often ignored by many leaders.
If you’re familiar with one of ADVISA’s learning experiences, it’s very likely you’ve heard or read, “WIIFM?” at some point in time. It stands for, “What’s in it for me?” and it’s crucial for leaders to consider not only from their own perspective but also of those they are attempting to communicate with and influence.
Start here. With your new strategic plan in hand, consider what’s in it for your people. What will specifically interest them, get them excited, or perhaps make them frustrated, neglected, or anxious? Before you can communicate a strategic plan effectively, you need to identify what’s in it for each group of stakeholders—from various divisions and departments, to people leaders, individual contributors, and even new hires.
Map it out
With your WIIFM? addressed for each group of stakeholders, connect them all back to the business goal(s). Remember, your people are who bring to life the business strategy to achieve results.
Connecting various teams to goals without noting what’s in it for them falls flat. So take the time to draw it out. Create a map that will take your organization from here to your desired business goals, identifying who is playing what role along the way while also noting each group’s and goal(s) significance.
One at a time
Once you have mapped out the strategy and identified all stakeholders along with their WIIFM? statements, you can meet with groups (one at a time) to introduce the new strategic plan. Notice this isn’t one big town hall meeting. Department or team meetings allow for deeper conversation and questions, which leads to greater understanding and even further refinement of the plan. What’s more, it creates invested interest in the strategy and its success because everyone feels like they were a part of its development.
Revise as needed
A strategic plan is put to paper, not carved in stone. After communicating the strategic plan to stakeholders, take the time to revise and perfect it. Make sure any additions become part of the overall plan and remove any initiatives that were killed off to avoid confusion. And, based upon conversations with stakeholders, add clarity where it is warranted. Consider the plan you shared with folks prior to this a draft. With buy-in from stakeholders, you are ready to finalize.
Present the plan
Now is the time for a town hall meeting or organizational-wide presentation on the new strategic plan. It’s important stakeholders feel like they were heard and their suggestions and questions were addressed in this final version. It helps grow buy-in and builds excitement for what’s to come. Be sure to call out contributors who provided additional insights and ideas during the presentation, regardless of their area of specialty or tenure. And remind everyone the plan wasn’t created in vacuum at an offsite retreat. Everyone played a role in creating it and everyone will have a hand in executing it.
But don’t stop there
The plan is out in the open, so we’re all set, right? Wrong. It’s important to keep the strategic plan a part of weekly standups, executive team meetings, board meetings, and end of month (or end of quarter) reviews. But keeping the plan alive doesn’t have to be a paragraph at the beginning of a chairman’s letter, a slide in a PowerPoint presentation, or a scoreboard in the break room—although, these are all good ideas! Leaders should get creative in communicating the strategic plan again and again, so it doesn’t grow old or get forgotten. Some recommendations include a strategic plan launch party, “small win” celebrations, notes of encouragement to team members, regular updates via internal communication tools, monthly and quarterly reviews on “where we are”, and so on.
Remember, employees want to know what’s coming and how it will affect them. The sooner leaders can share plans for the future and be open to feedback, the faster the organization can move to act and achieve goals.
Whether you’re preparing your strategic planning retreat or are ready to begin communicating the strategic plan to stakeholders now, take a moment to consider where you are in the process. Don’t jump ahead a few steps because the clock is ticking. Take the time now to make sure the strategic plan is sound and completely agreed upon to prevent disengagement and any other potential fall out because your people felt excluded or disconnected from the process.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to read “Strategy Season: People Strategy + Business Strategy” by Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett.
And to read more from Lauren Littlefield, read her previous article “Stop Self-Diagnosing Organizational Dysfunction.”